Why taking action on climate change will be of benefit to all

A Mbororo girl shepherding her cattle in the Sahel, the semi-arid land that encompasses four countries in Africa. The Mbororo’s traditional nomadic life is under threat as climate change diminishes fertile land that is available. Picture: Jorge Fernandez/LightRocket/Getty

Global warming has helped fuel migrant flows into Europe, and has driven desperate people into the arms of terrorist groups, says Caroline O’Doherty.

The connection between runaway Irish carbon emissions, the rise of a terror group in central and west Africa, and migrant flows across the Mediterranean is not immediately apparent but Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim has a way of presenting disparate variables in a kind of transnational mathematical equation where the result is both clear and startling.

Hindou is a member of the Mbororo community, one of the indigenous groups in Chad where her people are nomadic pastoralists. For generations, they have travelled back and forth across the country with their livestock, grazing the animals for a few days at each stop before moving on to fresh pastures, leaving the land to recover with dung to fertilise the new growth.

It is a way of life that has been in harmony with nature and has created minimal contest with other land users.

But the Sahel, the band of semi-arid land that stretches across the middle of Chad and makes up the Mbororo’s traditional route, has been getting drier, and Lake Chad, vital to millions in the four countries that share its shores, has been getting smaller, both attributed largely, if not completely, to climate change.

The rainy season, once ranging from three months long in the north of Chad to nine months in the south, has shrunk to between two and six months.

“When my mother was young, 50 years ago, the lake was 25,000 square kilometres,” Hindou says. “Now it’s 2,500.”

The changes are forcing the Mbororo to walk further and longer in search of pasture and water, in ever more inhospitable conditions.

“It’s hard for people and animals to walk when it’s 50 degrees,” Hindou says. “When it’s 50 degrees, it’s like fire on your body.”

There is growing demand for the diminishing fertile lands so the Mbororo are coming into conflict with struggling farmers too. And so they walk further again.

Both groups are in competition for water with the fisherman, so the conflict widens and deepens as the lakes and rivers narrow and shallow.

“Conflict between communities is growing every day and conflict spreads beyond communities to regions and then to countries,” Hindou says.

And in the middle of it all are increasingly desperate people who make easy pickings for terror groups such as Boko Haram. Boko Haram’s attacks target security forces and civilians alike — police stations, markets, and refugee camps are all considered fair game. It is violently opposed to the education of girls and the mass kidnapping, rape, and impregnation of schoolgirls is the punishment it metes out in retaliation.

And yet it manages to pull its membership from farmers, fishermen, and herders who never raised an implement except as a tool of their labour.

Hindou doesn’t excuse but she does explain.

“In Chad, a man has the responsibility to feed his family,” she says. “If he can not do that, he finds himself without any dignity. He can not even consider himself a man. It’s easy for terrorist groups like Boko Haram to recruit people because they have what this man needs, they have food and money.

So this man, he can join this group like Boko Haram or he can become a migrant. Maybe he can be a migrant at regional level, or he will try to go to Europe. So the environmental issue becomes a security issue.

It is deeply ironic and frustrating to Hindou that the West, most notably the US, have poured billions into counter-terrorism and peacekeeping missions in the region. Irish peacekeepers were stationed in Chad up to recent years.

She says those billions would be better spent fighting carbon emissions in the countries of origin and investing in climate adaptation in the countries most damaged by their inaction.

“Of course we need the armies to fight the terrorist group, but we also need also to invest in the people in order to assist development and keep the people from the terrorist group.”

Hindou tells her story to a sympathetic audience at a conference jointly organised by the French Embassy in Ireland, the Institute of International and European Affairs, and Trinity College Dublin, to mark the second anniversary of the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

But this audience isn’t big enough and sympathy isn’t powerful enough. What she wants to do is impress on everyone in Ireland that our efforts on carbon reduction must improve. We’ve agreed to reduce our carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 but we’re on target to achieve just a 1% drop.

Hindou wants us to do better, firstly out of a sense of justice.

“Developing countries didn’t create the climate impact. Ireland can impact positively or negatively a thousand miles away where my people are living,” she says.

If not justice, then pragmatism. Those migrant flows have caused upheaval in Europe, while terrorism in her home country costs us all.

And if not pragmatism, then self-interest. She references the floods and fires that have ravaged Europe and Ireland in recent years.

We are talking about the climate impact now in my country, in my people, but tomorrow it’s going to be worse in developed countries. If you don’t want to take action for those people that you don’t know, take the action for yourself and then you can save us also.

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